09/09/2010 04:21 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Wise Words for Tough Times

A new book, "Hope Beneath Our Feet: Restoring Our Place in the Natural World" poses a timely and provocative question: "In a time of environmental crisis, how can we live right now?"

Editor Martin Keogh has pulled together the wisdom of many people to answer this question. I contributed an essay on the psychology of dealing with the increasingly dire environmental news ("Coping with New Realities") and there are wonderful essays by people like Paul Hawken, Barbara Kingsolver, Frances Moore Lappe, Bill McKibben, Michael Pollan, permaculture co-founder Bill Mollison, Vicki Robin, Michael Abelman, Vandana Shiva, Alice Walker, Howard Zinn, Wendell Berry and many others.

If you struggle to keep hope alive in the era of disintegrating economic, political and environmental conditions, you may find comfort and even inspiration here. Richard Heinberg (author of "The Party's Over" and other great books about the end of the fossil-fueled era) says: "This book presents a rich lode of psychological resilience for those who suffer from a depletion of ecological optimism."

Don't you love that last phrase? It's a polite way of saying that for those of us who contemplate jumping off a tall building as we learn more and more about the shocking realities of our collective environmental (and therefore economic) situation, this book may be a lifesaver.

I have a copy on my desk and find myself dipping into it regularly. What a relief to be able to hear these calm yet fully awake voices in a world seemingly gone mad. I love being able to get good practical advice from 56 of the smartest people on the planet about how to stay sane in truly scary times.

Here are some words of wisdom that I found especially moving this afternoon, written by "people's historian" Howard Zinn, who died earlier this year at age 88:

In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often pale in comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I manage to stay involved and seemingly happy? I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played ... There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people's thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.

Yes, that is indeed the "hope beneath our feet."